Climate change, Water Conflicts and Human Rights

Asian Jurist

April 2019

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Climate Change- In the hands of Individual


Since the recorded history of mankind, can we exclusively blame human species as by and large responsible for the climate change, emerging water conflicts and non-adherence to human rights? Can we lay all blame on contemporaneous era of industrialization and prevailing culture of modernization and ever increasing inventions in the realm of information technology and weaponry?

This earth was not gifted to us and to other species with perfect climatic balance conducive for their development and living. Since known and unknown centuries, climatic change visited almost all parts of earth with or without human and other creatures’ interferences. Perhaps, we are living in an era where human species have contributed colossally to the climate change and are now desiring to reverse it and make earth climate friendly through conscious global efforts.

This earth was gifted to us and to other species by nature with pre-formatted weather and climate.  “The four basic ingredients of weather and climate are pressure, moisture, wind, and temperature”.The human community, who must exist within the laws of nature and science, needs to respect and preserve the environment that nature has bestowed. Humanity must take urgent action to reverse the course of climate change that is already affecting the biosphere or threaten humanity’s very existence and the future of all of the species populating our planet.

We are accelerating the rate of climate change far past what the influence of the sun or any natural force could achieve. Processes in our daily lives are expelling chemicals and foreign substances into the air that affect and increase the natural greenhouse gases, which then absorb more energy from the sun. This results in global warming and changes the climate.

I will briefly emphasise on the contents of Earth Charter and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992).

The Earth Charter Earth, says, “Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust”.

The Challenges Ahead The choice is ours form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life.

We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impact on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development -1992-, which is being named as soft international law. The seventh principle of this declaration is very encouraging for people living in developing states and that says, “States shall co-operate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.

We all must promote the agenda for the welfare of earth and please allow me to say that individuals must take on the responsibility themselves and must not wait for the states to take the lead because the state is nothing without its people. All states have environmental laws and enforcement mechanism. For example Indian constitutional courts have delivered excellent judgments and India has developed fairly good legislation and Pakistani High Courts have green benches but unfortunately, Lahore and Delhi are still facing fog and smog because of poor implementation of green laws.

Law is a synthetic phenomenon without moral individualistic support. Law needs flawless infrastructure and resources for it enforcement and if individual decides to obey the environmental law as moral code of conduct for one’s survival and better future for the coming generations and other species then the global desire expressed by the specialists, through national and international consensus developed in any form can gift better earth to the future generations.

Richard Somerville, while writing on the ethics of climate change says, “We do not live in such a world. In reality, the science of climate change, no matter how advanced, will never be sufficient to tell humanity what to do. Science may be able to inform policy by forecasting how severe climate change will be, given different greenhouse gas levels. However, experience teaches that science alone is never enough. When confronting environmental challenges, considerations of fairness, equity, and justice must also inform any successful international agreement.

This is certainly true of three major ethical dilemmas now complicating the climate change debate: how to balance the rights and responsibilities of the developed and developing world; how to evaluate geo-engineering schemes designed to reverse or slow climate change; and how to assess our responsibility to future generations who must live with a climate we are shaping today”.

Climate justice refers to the disproportional impact of climate change on poor and marginalized populations, while climate equity refers to who should bear the burden of responsibility for addressing climate change. These twin concerns have both intranational and international dimensions. Climate change will negatively and disproportionately impact poor and marginalized people within national borders as well as cause conflicts between nations, regions and cities that are more or less vulnerable to climate disruptions. The strong culture of sharing one’s fortune by all individuals, entities and states must be practiced globally otherwise the future of earth is going to enter in an unknown and unprecedented calamity.


The management of land and natural resources is one of the most critical challenges facing developing countries today. The exploitation of high-value natural resources, including oil, gas, minerals and timber has often been cited as a key factor in triggering, escalating or sustaining violent conflicts around the globe. Furthermore, increasing competition over diminishing renewable resources, such as land and water, are on the rise. This is being further aggravated by environmental degradation, population growth and climate change. The mismanagement of land and natural resources is contributing to new conflicts and obstructing the peaceful resolution of existing ones.

Non-violent resolution of conflict is possible when individuals and groups trust their governing structures to manage incompatible interests. When mechanisms for managing and resolving them break down, conflict becomes problematic and may give way to violence. Weak institutions, fragile political systems and divisive social relations can perpetuate cycles of violent conflict. Preventing this spiral and ensuring the peaceful resolution of disputes is a core interest of both individual states and the international community.

In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region as the world’s first climate change conflict. The assumption was that water scarcity from changed rainfall patterns resulting from climate change contributed to this conflict. His thinking reflects findings to date that the incidence of conflict is likely to be higher in years of lower precipitation. In numerical terms, a 1% increase in temperature leads to a 4.5% increase in civil war in the same year and a 0.9% increase in the following year. By the year 2030, based on averaged data from the 18 climate models used, this will translate to approximately a 54% increase in armed conflict incidence in the region. The researchers argue that conflict will derive from economic uncertainties resulting from temperature-related yield declines in societies heavily dependent upon agriculture. This is because research to date has found that “economic welfare is the single factor most consistently associated with conflict incidence”.

Many millions of people are experiencing today, the double vulnerability of conflict and climate change. This combination of climate change and armed conflict means that vulnerable civilian populations are having to survive armed conflict and climate change simultaneously. Pastoralists and the rural poor who are already living at the margins of environmental feasibility can be pushed beyond their limits by the additional impact of armed conflict, such as the deprivation of their lands for cultivation and grazing as well as by forced displacement, pillage and indiscriminate attacks. At the same time, vulnerable communities who are gradually recovering from armed conflict by replanting their fields or restocking their herds are often hit again by the effects of climate variability like drought or erratic and destructive rains. The impact of armed conflict can also set back people’s adaptation strategies by destroying infrastructure, capital, assets and livelihoods that are vital to positive forms of adaptation[xii].Bangladesh, India, China, Maldives, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Egypt, Libya and Kenya are the focus of most of the literature on conflict and climate change.

As contentious as the term ‘climate refugees’ has been the question of how many such refugees can be expected in future. Many analysts have focused on a figure of 200 million ‘climate refugees’ by 2050. This figure has been challenged, however, for example by an International Organization for Migration (2008) study which noted that the figure exceeds the current global total of 192 million people who have migrated, and that “the consequences of climate change for human population distribution are unclear and unpredictable” – particularly in view of the non-linear and frequently abrupt nature of past climate changes, as discussed earlier[xiii]Even before climate change is taken into account, scarcity of land, food, water and oil is likely to be an increasing driver of change between now and 2030, and beyond. Climate change will exacerbate the challenge in all of these areas, and the combined effect of these changes is likely to put tens to hundreds of millions of people at risk of impacts including hunger, disease, displacement, injury, poverty or other forms of hardship.

As the contemporary world is increasingly becoming conscious of the link between climate change and water conflicts, it is time to divert sizable resources of states, multi nationals, conscious and financially strong individuals to come forward and develop equitable and just climate justice system based on the fundamental needs of human and other species of nature irrespective of boundaries of states and narrow national interests. Earth is a common living place for all and we all are responsible to protect earth and must develop global justice system on the principle of fairness and equity. Conflicts and wars can further polarize and complicate the earth and its inhabitants, the recipes of love, sharing, sacrifice and peace must be the face of the present day states.

The world’s most celebrated physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking issued a call for humans to “continue to go into space for the future of humanity.” “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet,” “We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share,” he wrote.


Office of the United National Human Rights Commissioner (HRC) in its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.

The negative impacts of climate change are disproportionately borne by persons and communities already that are already in disadvantageous situations owing to geography, poverty, gender, age, disability, cultural or ethnic background, among others, that have historically contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, persons, communities and even entire States that occupy and rely upon low-lying coastal lands, tundra and Arctic ice, arid lands, and other delicate ecosystems and at risk territories for their housing and subsistence face the greatest threats from climate change.

A human rights-based approach also calls for accountability and transparency. It is not only States that must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change but also businesses which have the responsibility to respect human rights and do no harm in the course of their activities. States should make their adaptation and mitigation plans publicly available, and be transparent in the manner in which such plans are developed and financed. Accurate and transparent measurements of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and its impact, including human rights impacts, will be essential for successful rights-based climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Because of the impacts of climate change on human rights, States must effectively address climate change in order to honour their commitment to respect, protect and fulfill human rights for all. Since climate change mitigation and adaptation measures can have human rights impacts; all climate change-related actions must also respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights standards.

The nature of the linkages between the environment and human rights has been debated for years. However, it has long been recognized that a clean, healthy and functional environment is integral to the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to life, health, food and an adequate standard of living. This recognition offers one reason the international community has banded together through multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) to prohibit illegal trade in wildlife, to preserve biodiversity and marine and terrestrial habitats, to reduce transboundary pollution, and to prevent other behaviors that harm the planet and its residents. In short: Environmental protection protects human rights. At the same time, adherence to human rights—such as those that ensure public access to information and participation in decision making—contributes to more just decisions about the utilization and protection of environmental resources, and protects against the potential for abuse under the auspices of environmental action. Thus, domestic environmental laws and MEAs can both be strengthened through the incorporation of human rights principles, even as they contribute to the ongoing realization of human rights.


Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273), better known in the West as Rumi, was one of the greatest thinkers, spiritual masters and mystic poets of all time. While the human rights theory of today ensures social and political equality between people, Rumi’s equality approach describes a human as a beam radiating from one light source and a drop from the same ocean. As he regards humans as branches of the same tree, he foresees an exact and integrated equality in both cosmic and physical terms. Rumi, in all his works, sees the human as a supreme being beyond having certain inherent rights. He expressed this universal manifestation, which can be seen as the starting point of the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, eight centuries ago.

Climate change poses an enormous threat to the lives and well-being of individuals and communities across the world and that needs collective response according to the capacity of each community, state, private sector and most importantly from the individuals. In my humble view disastrous consequences of climate change, avoidance of water conflicts and adherence to human rights cannot be achieved merely through the enforcement of laws at local and international levels. Coherent workable coalition of law, religion, culture, morality and knowledge developed by physical and social sciences can make earth a better place to live in.